A detail from a painting by Lorenzo Lotto, titled Venus and Cupid, dated c. 1525.

An Excerpt from Pissing Figures 1280–2014

David Zwirner Books Excerpts

These past weeks, we’ve been trying to come up with thoughtful ways of staying in touch with everyone—our artists as well as art lovers all around the world. We’ve ramped up our podcast schedule, and now we’ll be sharing some of our favorite titles from David Zwirner Books with you in a new way. Every week our newsletter will introduce a book that we will excerpt—at great length, often in full—on our website. To be updated on upcoming book excerpts and other news, sign up to our newsletter here and follow us @davidzwirner.

We hope you enjoy. And, as Rainer Maria Rilke once said, "Live for a while in these books."

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This week, we’re excerpting Pissing Figures 1280-2014, a ribald and learned history of the urinating figure in art. Jean-Claude Lebensztejn’s book is at once a scholarly inquiry into an important visual motif and a statement on transgression and limits in works of art in general. Lebensztejn is one of France’s best-kept secrets—a world-class art historian who has lectured and taught at major universities in the United States, his work has remained almost entirely in French, his American audience limited to a small but dedicated group of cognoscenti. This excerpt, titled “Pissing Girls,” turns the gaze away from male figures to uncover an iconography of exception.

A photo of the book titled Pissing Figures 1280–2014 by Jean-Claude Lebensztejn.

Pissing Girls

It goes without saying that all these pissing youths are and must be male, certainly for physiological reasons, but above all for symbolic ones : with their little instruments, they represent virility in action and the power relations inscribed by the phallus in human civilization. In the Western classical tradition, representations of girls or women pissing are rare but remarkable, and are tied, when they appear, to an iconography of exception.

Read the full chapter

Image: Lorenzo Lotto, Venus and Cupid, c. 1525 (detail). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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